Retailers talk logistics at conference

El Dorado Furniture operates in South Florida but ships to customers up the East Coast as far as New York, according to Danny Capo, the company’s Distribution Center director. It could do more e-commerce, selling to consumers in other parts of the country, he added, if it could overcome a persistent problem: Getting its products assembled and set up in purchasers’ homes.

Capo and George Cartledge III, president of Grand Home Furnishings in Roanoke, Va., sat on a retail panel last week at the 2019 Logistics Conference held in Wilmington, N.C., by the American Home Furnishings Alliance Specialized Furniture Carriers. The two-day event, which drew some 150 participants from across the country, included a tour of the Port of Wilmington and focused on opportunities and challenges when it comes to moving furniture from one place to another.

“Some of the national delivery services, they put it in the front yard and say here it is, come get it,” Cartledge said. His customers expect more, so Grand Home Furnishings uses its own delivery teams, who make sure the furniture is set up the way the buyer wants it. The company has 21 stores and outlets and five distribution centers in smaller towns and cities in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. As for its e-commerce business, “We’re limping along with it,” Cartledge said.

Staying in touch with customers

That doesn’t mean Grand Home isn’t keeping up. It’s engaging more frequently with customers electronically while still trying to call them two days, then one day, before delivery. “It’s tough because of robocalls, they don’t want to answer,” Cartledge said.

El Dorado, which contracts for deliveries, communicates with local customers about deliveries by texts, emails and online, Capo said. Customers can track the delivery truck like they do an Uber they’ve summoned. That usually works well, although El Dorado found that some crews that also delivered appliances for a different company didn’t like handling furniture.

El Dorado isn’t like IKEA, which sells ready-to-assemble furniture, Capo said. But some of its products need basic assembly that customers expect to be done for them. Furniture also can sustain minor damage in transit requiring simple repairs in the home.

For deliveries as far north as New York, El Dorado uses a small moving company whose workers do have the necessary skills, Capo said. There aren’t enough of those partners around, he added. As good as that company is, it still takes about a week for deliveries to reach customers in New York.

That can pose another problem. These days, “Nobody buys anything and wants to wait for it,” Cartledge said. Most customers shop online and purchase in the store. So, when they come in, he said, “you better have what they want.” That means keeping substantial inventory on site or in a warehouse/distribution center where it can quickly reach the customer. “Delivery begins in the warehouse,” Cartledge said.

‘You really have to open everything’

Some of that inventory comes from overseas, creating the potential for damage in transit.

“You really have to open everything,” Cartledge said of packaged products coming through U.S. ports and trucked to Grand Home facilities. “It used to come on a truck from North Carolina to Virginia. Now it’s coming from Long Beach (Calif.) or Norfolk or, hopefully now, Wilmington.”

El Dorado’s quality acceptance department inspects products arriving from overseas, but its proximity to the Port of Miami reduces the risk of damage on the road, Capo said. Still, “You hope it comes with the quality you wanted and you get what you paid for. Any problem, we want to find out before it reaches the customer.”

“Service is paramount, because the ultimate beneficiary, or victim, is the customer,” Cartledge said. Service means not just going the extra mile, but the final mile, successfully.

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